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Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know Hardcover – March 1, 2000
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From the Back Cover
-Art Kleiner, Coauthor of The Dance of Change and Author of The Age of Heretics
"Common Knowledge is valuable to readers interested in understanding the practices by which knowledge is transferred. An important contribution to the knowledge management literature."
-Stephen Denning, Program Director, Knowledge Management, World Bank
"Nancy Dixon offers insightful case studies that identify the obstacles facing organizations that implement knowledge management practices, and outlines the techniques to overcome them. Her book reveals that by focusing on getting 'best demonstrated practices,' we can all improve and leverage what we already know in our organization."
-Jack W. Hugus, Ph.D, Vice President of Best Practices, Lockheed Martin Corporation
"Common Knowledge presents an elegant view of how knowledge is transferred and provides a simple framework to better understand the complexity of knowledge management."
-Gary Merriman, President, Exploration Production Americas, Conoco, Inc.
"Nancy Dixon brings her unique blend of insight and lucidity to the business of knowledge management. By pointing out the fundamental shifts that are taking place in our view of knowledge, she shows us why the knowledge management systems that work do work, and specifies the design principles that could make such systems work in your organization."
-Mike Pedler, Revans Professorial Fellow, Revans Centre for Action Learning & Research, University of Salford, UK
About the Author
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The book is beautifully written. The clear examples and case studies illuminate and add depth to her materials. This book should be the first thing that anyone reads who is considering how to transfer the knowledge (both tacit and explicit) that already exists within a company to others in the company who need it. Dixon is careful to point out that she is not providing a "recipe book" ("one size fits all"); rather, she is giving guidance on what works in particular situations and then inviting readers to begin on their own exploration. Dixon describes that exploration as a necessary first step in creating a knowledge transfer system within a company.
Incidentally, her chapter dealing with how knowledge is changing (moving from the "warehouse" model to the "flow of water" model) makes me want to ask her to write another book -- soon -- to expand on her ideas.
A pleasure to read. I have already recommended it to two clients and I intend to tell others about it soon.
The objective of Dixon's study of ten organizations (ranging from Bechtel to the U.S. Army) was to understand why some knowledge transfer systems are effective...and why others are not. Eventually, she concluded that "These organizations know a great deal about how...but much less about why." Moreover, "Organizations like the ones I have written about in this book, that are on the leading edge of knowledge transfer have been learning on their own, primarily through trial and error." To which I presume to add, that we must understand how to learn if any knowledge (about anything else) is to be gained. Moreover, there are also quite specific skills required when helping others to learn what we know. In her book, Dixon provides a wealth of information which includes cases and examples, a "synthesis that retains the separate voices of the examples", "stories" which preserve the emotions and values of people involved. general principles derived from the cases, and an "articulation" of the reasoning behind the various categories (eg absorptive capacity) inorder to reveal the WHY behind the categories. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline and his more recent The Dance of Change.
The material is divided into 9 chapters, and the writing style is very focused and precise. Useful flowcharts and checklists make the material a must-read for KM professionals and management strategists.
Dixon begins by deconstructing some common myths � such as �build it and they will come.� Knowledge transfer which is merely based on accumulating electronic databases will bring about neither appropriate contributions nor adequate retrievals; incentives, discipline, actionable results, alignment with objectives, and face-to-face communication are key requisites.
Going beyond broad generalizations of organizational knowledge management, the book focuses specifically on the issue of knowledge transfer, and identifies five key categories of lesson sharing in large companies: serial transfer, near transfer, far transfer, strategic transfer and expert transfer.
They differ in terms of who the intended knowledge receiver is (same or different from the source), the nature of the task involved (frequency and routine), and the type of knowledge being transferred (tacit/explicit).
One chapter each is devoted to the five kinds of transfer mechanisms, and two chapters tie all the material together in terms of guidelines for building knowledge transfer systems.
In serial transfer, the collective knowledge a team has gained from doing its task in one setting is transferred to the next time that the same team does the task in a different setting. The tasks are frequent, so meetings are held regularly and assessment questions are standardized.
In near transfer of explicit knowledge, the source and recipient teams are different � but the tasks are quite similar. The tasks are routine; selected goal-oriented information is disseminated electronically, along with supplemental personal interaction; information usage is monitored and assessed.
In far transfer, the tacit knowledge a team gained from doing a non-routine task is made available to other teams doing similar work in another part of the organization. There is a reciprocal exchange of knowledge, and face-to-face meetings as well as movement of experts are involved.
Examples include BP�s Peer Assist (initiated in 1994, to share experience in challenging areas like deciding whether to invest in a new rig; the transfer includes a visit to rig sites by peers), Chevron�s Capital Project Management (with online forums as well as physical movement of project managers to spread learned lessons across the company), and Lockheed Martin�s LM21 Best Practices (to identify and eliminate redundant facilities, capabilities and structures across its 30 subsidiaries; assessments were made of performance and financial performance).
Other examples include Japan�s Dai-Ichi Pharmaceuticals, where researchers are expected to spend 20 minutes a day in �talk rooms� where anyone can dialogue with them. �Tacit knowledge can be transferred by moving the people who have the knowledge around. Calling on tacit knowledge is not just a memory task, it is as often an act of creation or invention,� says Dixon.
Top-level commitment to the process is called for. Some companies like Ernst&Young designate certain knowledgeable people as �shared resources,� who spend a chunk of their time sharing their knowledge companywide.
Strategic transfer is called for when the collective knowledge of the organization is needed to accomplish a strategic task that occurs infrequently � but is critical to the whole organization. The knowledge gathering is conducted during the actual operation; it can be expensive and resource-intensive, and also involves knowledge specialists who collect information, conduct interviews, videotape discussions, interpret the examples, and synthesise knowledge.
A useful methodology here is MIT�s �learning history� process, which results in a narrative document describing an event and incorporating quotes from multiple sources and even contradictory perspectives. The process should include subsequent reflective research and validation. These events need not have to be the �best,� but will always have useful learnings.
The resulting documentation from strategic transfer can be disseminated on Intranets, and should have guidelines, checklists, people profiles, contact information, colourful overall narratives, records, and artifacts. Once created by KM specialists, the product is handed over to a community of practice that has the responsibility of keeping it current.
Expert transfer involves the transfer of explicit knowledge from an expert to someone who faces a problem beyond their current scope. Knowledge is pulled from the expert on demand, via threaded electronic forums to which support is dedicated for monitoring, escalation and support.
Examples include Buckman Lab�s TechForums (started in 1992, monitored by librarians and sysops, and supported by editorial help in producing weekly summaries of discussions), Tandem Computer�s Second Class Mail (for tech support), Chevron�s Best Practices Resource Map (a yellow pages of employee resources), the World Bank�s internal help line, and Ernst&Young�s Knowledge Stewards. Online infrastructure is critical here for multinationals, and there can be infrastructure problems in developing countries.
In terms of RoI, Ford reportedly claims that US$34 million were saved in just one year by transferring ideas between Vehicle Operations plants; Texas Instruments saved enough from transferring knowledge between wafer fabrication plants to pay for building a whole new facility.
The books shows how each organization can have multiple ways of transferring knowledge, involving databases, response systems, monitoring, meetings, and dedicated KM staff. Appropriate audits of knowledge assets, knowledge gaps, existing knowledge flows, and critical processes need to be conducted, sometimes with external assistance.
As for branding knowledge transfer initiatives, Dixon observes that they often don�t even mention the word �knowledge� � the emphasis is on words like peering, assistance, team building, and networking.
In sum, this book provides an excellent view of knowledge practices right from the trenches of companies at the cutting edge of KM. The inductive analysis and roadmaps for implementing knowledge transfer are essential reading for knowledge professionals in all manner of large organizations.
Madanmohan Rao is the author of "The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook" and can be reached at email@example.com